Strife After Death
by: Jeff Gardiner
About the author: I am the author of contemporary novel, 'Myopia', and a collection of short stories 'A Glimpse of the Numinous'.
As an agnostic I, somewhat indifferently and wholly inactively, believe there might be a God, but - as this story demonstrates - I am not convinced that the established church has the best understanding of God (if there is one).
Blog: Jeffgardiner's Blog
Strife After Death
Al was glad to be dead.
His life was going nowhere with his mid-life depression turning to feelings of futility. Not that he’d contemplated suicide - he remained too much of a coward – but once he’d realized the car was going to hit the tree and no passengers or others were going to suffer, he’d lifted his hands off the steering wheel and taken a deep breath.
He felt no pain. It had been instant and now here he stood in the middle of a misty cloud.
“Guess there’s an afterlife, after all,” he said aloud. “Fancy that.” A thought enveloped him. He might be able to haunt some of those bastards in his office; particularly that pain in the ass - Steve.
“Revenge will be sweet,” he guffawed.
“Tut tut,” said a voice behind him. “This is the wrong place to be considering revenge.”
Al spun round to see two men in dark suits smiling over their clipboards. They looked like those annoying utility salesmen who knock on the door in the middle of your dinner.
“What exactly is this place?”
“We call it the ‘ante-chamber’,” one of the men replied, jotting down something with his expensive-looking pen. “Sounds ominous and mystical. Quite appropriate for the entrance into Heaven and to God’s presence in eternal glory and splendor.”
“Heaven?” Al spluttered. He hadn’t been to church since the age of eight and - even standing here now - considered himself an atheist. “You mean I made it into heaven?”
The first man nodded enthusiastically.
“Blimey, that was easy.”
“Anyone can come to Heaven if they want to.”
“Really? I thought you had to be good and renounce all sin and all that malarkey.”
“Well that always is a good option. But really, anybody who wants to can come here.”
“Flippin’ heck,” Al gawped. “What I would’ve given to have known that when I was alive.”
“That’s what they all say,” said one of the suited men.
“Right,” added the other. “All that pointless guilt, eh?”
“Sod the guilt, I was thinking about all those women … what a waste. And all those things I should’ve said and done.”
“Life’s wasted on the living. That’s what the big man says.”
Al nodded and let out a whistle, full of more regret than he’d ever known.
“You know, I never realized God was so … so … liberal.”
“Uh-huh. He’s pretty easy going. He feels he’s been poorly represented by certain theologies you people create about him.”
“So let me get this straight,” Al gesticulated in an effort to organize his thoughts. “You’re saying anybody can get to Heaven if they want to. You just die and walk right in?”
“That’s it exactly,” said one.
“In a nutshell,” the other exclaimed triumphantly.
“And what’s the catch?” Al considered himself an astute individual and he knew you never got something for nothing.
The two men raised their eyebrows in perfect synchronization.
“You humans are so suspicious. You just go straight in there and have fun. You’ve done the hard work now you can kick off your shoes and let your hair down.”
“You got it.”
Al turned to where he saw a door bathed in golden light: a door leading to paradise and eternal pleasure. But one thing nagged him.
“One last question?”
“So there is no ‘other place’? No devil?”
“Oh yeah, sure there is. Both I mean.”
“But I’m not going there?”
“This isn’t some sort of test or TV reality show is it?”
“Now that really does sound like hell,” both men chorused.
“Because I could’ve sworn I was damned and doomed to eternal torture,” Al continued.
“You can be if you want.”
“You see, Old Nick comes over here twice a week to recruit his own followers.”
“He comes to heaven to evangelize?” Al said, shocked.
“Bit of a change-round,” Al muttered. “And you let him?”
“Oh yeah. God doesn’t like to impose himself or his views on anyone. He really believes in freedom of speech.”
Al wondered when he was going to wake up. He was probably in a coma having survived that crash and would have to go back to work with those bastards, live a miserable existence until he was in his nineties and infirm, stuck in some nursing home trying to touch the fat asses of his carers.
“Sorry to burst your bubble,” said one of the suits,” but I’m afraid you are actually dead.”
Al nodded. “Good.” He whistled loudly as he walked towards the pearly gates, which creaked open like a supermarket’s automatic doors.
. . .
Al entered the largest room he had ever encountered. Bigger than any arena or cathedral – bigger than anything dreamt up by humanity – Al stood inside a gigantic domed space full of billions of individuals. He had never seen such a mass of people. It made his head spin.
The initial sensation made him realize he really was a part of something. Then looking at the extent of the multitude reminded him of his own insignificance. It struck him finally that he was indeed dead. An ex-Al. Now this was his final resting place. He’d vaguely hoped to see a familiar face – a distant relative or famous person; even a client or a school friend. He recognized nobody.
What had he expected? Orgies? Endless banquets of chocolate fondue? Nirvana and nothingness? The chance to finally sit quietly and read undisturbed forever? Perhaps the ultimate merging of all flesh and spiritual energy in the cosmos, melding together into the composite perfection of super-nature? Maybe turning into an angel, or even becoming God himself?
What he saw was more than a little disappointing.
Ushered into a seat, Al sat down ready to collect his thoughts and look around him. However, his thoughts were interrupted by a disembodied voice.
“Now open your service books to page two hundred and thirty seven.” The voice clanged in his head intoning a short, somber prayer when suddenly billions of voices spoke in unison: “And also with you, amen.”
“Now we want to welcome our latest member – Mr. Alan Lewis.” An almighty cheer rose to a deafening crescendo and Al was slapped on the back by those around him. Eventually everyone hushed, but with every single head turned in his direction. Countless pairs of eyes stared at him as the color drained from his face.
“Welcome to heaven, Al,” said the disembodied voice. “We’re gonna pray for you.” It felt like a million hands pressing onto his body. Voices clamored in an ecstasy of blended languages. Then he knew it was over when a large woman clasped him tightly to her ample bosom. “Gawd bless yer, son.” Then the voice took command once more.
“Let us stand and sing chorus number four thousand eight hundred and seventy six: ‘Our God is Really, Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Nice’. The song went on forever. I guess there’s no rush, Al contemplated. We have eternity.
That was when it hit him. Was this it now? Was this what he had to look forward to, endlessly stretching on into the infinite eons of foreverness? The rapture of eternal life – the promise of paradise – was … a never-ending church service.
Al felt a waft of nausea overcome him. Watching the people around him clap and dance in their joyful way with triumphant grins and silly gestures made him want to scream. The thought of singing this ridiculous song for the next thousand millennia made him feel queasy. Inane faces gawped and glassy eyes stared abstractedly as the irksome music repeated itself again and again and again.
“…really, really, really, really, really…”
He felt trapped and a panicky hand of black ice gripped his stomach and pulled it up to his throat making him gag.
“…really, really, really, really, really, really nice…”
Screaming, and with arms akimbo, Al roughly pushed against all those between him and the door. He needed light; air; a cool breeze – anything to stop this suffocating. Frightened the door would be locked, of being trapped in this madhouse, Al threw all his weight at it, barging shoulder first. The door flew open on its springy hinges and he tumbled unceremoniously onto the grass outside.
“My, my,” said a voice, deep and terrible. “Quite an exit. You must have been a stunt man in a former life.” A subsonic gurgle became a bass giggle that finally ended with a rattling snort.
Al looked up at a white-haired giant whose eyes peered out of a gigantic white beard and wavy moustache. His first thought was that he was in the presence of Santa Claus.
“You don’t look too good. Anything I can help you with?” asked the giant.
“Thanks,” said Al. “I’m Al…”
“Yup, I know. Hello Al. I’m… er … God.”
Al bowed, unsure how else to respond.
“Sounds a bit pretentious doesn’t it? Sorry – not meant to be. Whenever I tell someone who I am it always sounds like I’m bragging. Then I get the feeling I’m being judged. Do you understand what I mean? Most people usually scuttle away and distance themselves, inventing some bizarre way of worshipping me behind locked doors, bowing down to strange images and paraphernalia pretending to speak on behalf of me, rather than actually listening to what I might have to say. Either that or they immediately decide they just don’t like me or they’d rather not bother. Then they do something else as a distraction.”
A silence came and sat between them. Al shuffled.
“But listen to me wittering on. I really don’t mean to bore you to death. Not that I can as you’re already dead.”
The silence became profound.
“You look like you need a friend, old chap,” God said in the least ‘boomy’ voice He could muster. “So do I to be honest.”
“You want me to be your friend?” Al tried not to sound too bemused.
God gave a coy look and nodded bashfully.
“Did that sound a bit desperate?”
“A little,” Al replied with some sympathy. He scrunched his face into a gurn and shrugged. “Okay, but I’m not sure I’m worthy. I’ve not always been very good and – as we’re being honest here – I should add that I didn’t even believe in you until … well … now.”
“You seem unduly negative,” said God. “Don’t forget: a rose may have a thorn, but a thorn will also have a rose.”
“Well, if you’re going to talk in clichéd sound bites then I’ll be off.”
“Sorry, Al,” God chuckled, pleased with the human’s honesty. “It’s become a bit of a habit to speak in pithy aphorisms.”
“Well stop it,” Al scolded.
“Look, will you be frank with me?”
“I’d rather stay being Al.”
God mimicked a drum roll and a tap of the cymbal. “The old ones, eh? They’re certainly …”
Divine Being and mortal laughed in camaraderie.
“I want you to be honest with me,” God began earnestly, with a sideways glance at Al’s response. “Where do you think I went wrong?”
It was certainly a big question. After a moment’s contemplation, Al took a deep breath.
“You need a make-over.”
“You need to change your appearance. You are the supreme being – you can take on any shape you want and you choose that one?”
“Is it bad?”
“Yes – very dated and alienating.”
“You’re probably right,” He sighed. “I’ve spent so long thinking of others that I’ve forgotten to look after myself. I need to get to a gym and work out a bit,” said God, patting His belly self-consciously. “I used to be in great shape.”
Al looked unconvinced.
“But your real problem is ... well …”
“Go on – don’t hold back,” God’s tone and gesture implied resignation.
“Well, am I right in saying that Heaven is supposed to be eternal bliss – some sort of a reward for suffering on Earth?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Why? What seems to be the problem, exactly?”
“The problem is that Heaven is … well … boring. Dull. Naff.” Al waited for the lightning bolt to strike him directly into the burning pit. After a few moments he guessed he was safe. “Just imagine the scenario: a person leads a God-fearing and obedient life, never rocking the boat, but strictly obeying all your rules and morals believing that their abstinence will get them a first class ticket to some kind of endless party. They suffered a bit and dedicated their life to helping others in selfless sacrifice. Went to church every Sunday and sat through thousands of sermons and read the Bible dutifully – even the weird bits – hoping for some kind of recognition for what they’ve done. Then that person dies and comes here ready for a never-ending shindig. But instead they are confronted with … an interminable church service.”
“But I thought that was what humans liked.”
“No, no, no.”
“But that’s what my followers have been doing for hundreds of years – so I assumed that was their idea of fun.”
“No – believe me. People hate it and are just too scared of upsetting you or the powerful people who run the church in case they’re damned or upset someone.”
“Oh, how silly.”
“But I never asked them to do it that way,” mused God. “I always thought it was more inspiring to stand on a mountain or look at the night stars – but they never seemed to go for that one – except the pagans that is. Sometimes I feel I have more in common with those blighters. I didn’t always feel welcome in those cliquey churches.”
“Mmm, I think I can relate to that one.”
“So is it really that bad – Heaven, I mean?”
“Worse. Much, much worse,” Al shook his head pitifully.
God lay down on the grass and looked up at the sky. “Not really very Rock’n’Roll is it?”
“So what do you suggest?”
“We need to liven this place up a little.”
“How do we do that? What sort of things are more exciting?”
Al struggled with this one for a while.
“The main problem, unfortunately, is that the most exciting things are usually also sins.”
“Are they? But who says so?”
“Er, you do.”
“Do I?” God looked genuinely bemused. “When did I say that?”
“Well, it says in the Bible that …”
“Oh, you don’t want to believe everything you read in there.”
“Really?” Al raised his eyebrows and they stayed for a surprisingly long while.
“That silly old book,” God dismissed it with a flick of the hand. “Honestly, full of daft things written by men claiming to speak for me. Some good bits I suppose, but some awful twaddle too.”
The silence returned as Al pondered deeply.
“I always found humans a little puritanical for my taste,” God continued. “I never really understood why they didn’t just cheer up and enjoy themselves a little more. I made their lives pretty short so I was expecting them to … well … live a little. Not sure how they got to be such a miserable bunch. Probably the invention of money and possessions that saw the rot set in.”
Al was intrigued to explore God’s Marxist leanings a little further, but he felt they were getting a little distracted from their original purpose.
“We could begin by having a big party.”
“What a great idea – love it,” God enthused. “Where do we start?”
“Well, everyone loves a drink,” Al began.
“Ooh, ooh, I could do my famous turning water into wine trick,” God grinned enthusiastically.
“Yup. Or you could just start with some wine and pour it into people’s glasses.”
“Oh yeah, I suppose, but that’s not quite as dramatic is it? Everyone likes a bit of magic.”
“Mm-hmm,” Al responded diplomatically. “We need lots of food, dancing and fun.”
“Fun,” God repeated in an absent voice as if remembering an old friend. “Can we dress up in costumes and play daft games too?”
“Hell, why not.”
“I love Twister. I have it somewhere – I think it’s in the cupboard…”
God leapt to His feet athletically and did a handspring. Before Al could say anything else God disappeared.
. . .
With God gone, Al attempted to take in the last few moments – but he found it difficult to concentrate over the continuous singing still polluting the air: ‘... really, really, really …’
A stranger approached immaculately clad in dark grey and a yellow tie tightly knotted. With his slightly graying hair and neat, trendy glasses he looked eminently respectable.
“Good afternoon, sir.” The man offered Al his right hand and Al noted his firm grip – one you could trust. “Not at church then?”
“Um, no,” Al mumbled, wondering if this guy might be some kind of spy employed to report any rebellious behavior.
“All that awful singing,” the man cringed. “Drives me insane.”
Al felt a warm current of relief radiate through his body. So he wasn’t alone then – there were others like him – liberals – agnostics even – walking cautiously around the edges. Maybe he could stay and not be forced to sing hymns ad infinitum.
“Me too,” Al sneered. “I thought I’d be stuck in there forever. I think the song had another five hundred and eighty seven verses to go.”
“Oh, so one of the shorter ones then,” the man giggled.
Al was warming to him. “And when they started praying for me I thought I was going to be crushed by all their love and enthusiasm. Asphyxiated by Christian compassion.” Al shuddered.
“Drowned in the blood of the Lamb,” the man barked with slightly unnecessary vigor.
“Well, quite,” Al responded with less certainty.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” the man said enigmatically.
“Maybe I can interest you in my Alternative Afterlife Plan.”
“Well, the AAP is currently my most popular portfolio and it fulfils your particular demographic. I can provide you with a contract with no immediate obligations, including very attractive benefits and provisions to suit your individual needs and even dietary requirements. Should you wish to continue with said terms then I am not liable to you for any loss of profit, opportunity, revenue, corruption of data and/or loss of good will or indirect and/or consequential loss, damages, expenses or compensation howsoever caused which arises out of or in connection with services provided to you or work that I (or third parties engaged by me) carry out on my behalf. These terms constitute the whole agreement between us and shall continue to apply notwithstanding a deep-rooted change of heart or conversion by the retainer. Sign here.”
Al gave a whispery whistle. “And I thought my job on Earth was dull.”
“So are you interested then?”
Al took a few steps back.
“To be honest, I have absolutely no idea what the hell you are talking about.”
The man took out a colorful leaflet.
“This is one of the award winning locations, offering great views, a very warm climate and a chance to network with like-minded souls.”
“Is this some kind of time share?”
“Um, sort of.”
Then it came to Al in a flash.
“You’re the Devil aren’t you?”
“Yes, but …”
“Well you either are or you aren’t,” Al said bluntly.
“Yes.” The Devil stared at his feet sheepishly.
“And basically, you’re trying to tempt me to ‘the other side’ aren’t you”
For a millisecond Al was tempted. His mind filled with images of orgies, drinking, gluttony, salacious dancing and general Bacchanalian activities. And momentarily he considered signing the contract, but knew deep down that Hell could never live up to his deepest erotic or culinary fantasies – those were best left in his imagination where he could safely dream without all the awkward, squidgy, guilty reality.
“Can’t say you’ve really convinced me.”
Satan took out another leaflet and handed to Al.
“Come to this address at 2pm any week day and I promise you a free gift of up to £10,000 if you sit through my thirty minute PowerPoint presentation detailing all the benefits and perks that could be yours (including the free champagne and canapés provided). There’s nothing to lose and if you accept on the day then your name also goes in to a prize-winning million pound draw …”
Al walked away, leaving the poor Devil wittering on to himself. He’d never imagined Lucifer to be such a dullard, but it did confirm his suspicions that marketing and advertising were innately evil.
Al stopped. He was caught between the Devil and a big dull church. Behind him was literally the salesman from Hell; before him came the unnerving refrain: ‘… really, really, really…’ Listening to it was like being slowly peeled, diced and painstakingly pickled in acid – an agony far worse than anything depicted by Hieronymus Bosch. Perhaps he should rethink the time share?
Then – talk about ‘Deus ex machina’.
“Al, whaddya think?”
Al spun on the spot and did a perfect silent movie double-take. God had shaved off His beard and moustache, low lighted His cropped, spiked hair and changed into distressed jeans, trainers and a Black Sabbath t-shirt.
“Always thought they were grossly misunderstood. Awesome riffs. Have you heard ‘War Pigs’?” At that, God strummed His air guitar with eyes closed in ecstasy. In Al’s peripheral vision he was aware of the Devil scuttling off.
“Looking good,” Al nodded approvingly.
“Thanks mate. Feels good to get this rug off my chin – been itching me for centuries.”
“So this is the new you then?”
“Yeah, and do you know what? I feel damned good.” God chuckled to Himself. “Well, I don’t actually mean damned as that’s the whole point of this place, eh?”
“You can say whatever you like. You are God after all.”
“What day is it today?” God looked at His wrist which sported a sundial on a strap. “Saturday. Perfect. I’m going to do something outrageous … reckless. I’m going to lie in on a Sunday morning way past twelve o’ clock. I might not even get up until the evening.”
“You old rebel you.”
Al noticed how God was reacting like a child on Christmas morning.
“So are things going to change from now on? What with the new image and attitude. Will this only affect Heaven or will people on Earth witness a new beginning?”
God suddenly looked miserable as if He’d been told He couldn’t open His presents until He’d eaten all His Brussel sprouts.
“Let me explain something to you, Al. I may well be the creator and the Supreme Being, but I also gave people a gift called free-will. Good for them; bad for me. You see, I’m not particularly welcome on Earth any more and haven’t been for a very long time.
“Bit ungrateful isn’t it?”
“I don’t really mind. True love doesn’t force its way in or brainwash people. Love doesn’t go with war and killing innocent individuals in ‘friendly fire’. I’m afraid human life has become so complicated and off-the-wall in some countries that people have forgotten the basics.” God plucked at His smooth chin, miming His missing beard out of centuries of habit. “But listen to me getting all serious again. It’s time to party!”
“Just one last thing before you do.”
“What’s that all about?”
“Well, it’s when humans talk to me.”
“Yeah, but really, what’s the point? You know everything right?”
“Possibly,” God replied modestly.
“So why do we need to ask you for things when you already know about them?”
“Okay, so I pray to you because there’s been some disaster in Africa and millions are dying.”
“Yup, with you so far.”
“I pray to you asking you to help the people suffering.”
“Are you up here listening and thinking, ‘Oh yeah, thanks Al, I hadn’t thought of that – cheers’?” Al paused to let God think. “Do you see what I’m getting at? You already know and presumably are already doing what you can. Or do you sit back and wait until you get a certain number of petitions before setting into action. Can you see my confusion here?”
God coughed politely, eyebrows furrowed in deep thought.
“Prayer isn’t for my benefit, Al. It’s for you.”
Al took his chance.
“So that means it doesn’t matter if we don’t do it.”
“Sure. I’m not keeping a tally or anything. Grief, I’m not that petty.” God strode off purposefully.
“Just checking,” Al muttered to himself with a smile.
. . .
God’s party rocked.
The choice of music was controversial; the games they played were surprising; the entertainment unprecedented; the dancing exotic; and the contents of the party-bags – simply outrageous. Laughter rang, cups overflowed, heads spun, legs ached, voices roared, floors oozed and love prevailed.
“Welcome to New Heaven, ladies and gentlemen.”
There ensued whistles, whoops and cheers as the gigantic church crumbled to smithereens. The huge edifice was razed to the ground as God pronounced all hymns, choruses and sermons hereby banned.
“Anything deemed dour or earnest is rejected in New Heaven,” God boomed in His best new boomy voice. “I want you all to know that I’m back and I’m bad – you know … ‘bad’ in the modern trendy sense of actually being good, but kind of cool,” he added quickly. “But let ye know that things have indeed changed. And verily I say unto thee, that I am taking charge – just like the old days – but this time WITH A SENSE OF HUMOUR.”
He received a standing ovation from the horde of billions. And the party continued.
. . .
“So when are you taking your message down to Earth?” Al finally plucked up the courage to ask the question whilst God shook Himself a cocktail in the pool bar.
“Oh yeah, that piddly little planet.” God downed His drink as He dangled His feet in the water. “I could send a messenger down – how do you fancy being the new messiah?” He winked at Al.
That would surprise a few folk, thought Al, especially that bastard Steve.
“No, no, no, no, no. I couldn’t cope with all the scourging and tortuous dying. No, I think you should go down and show them your true form. Not a son or daughter or second cousin twice removed – but the Lord Almighty Himself.”
“Mmm, not a bad idea, mate. I could do with a holiday.” God snapped on a pair of swimming goggles which appeared from nowhere and shifted His weight forward. “And I’d like you to come with me. Come on, I’ll race you. Last one to the other side is an atheist.
Al was excited about his return to Earth, although a little apprehensive. How much would it have changed? Would he hanker after his old life? This seemed unlikely but it still gave him the jitters. Perhaps it was more like the fear of reliving his old pathetic existence.
“You are so right, Al. About Earth I mean. That’s why I made you my right-hand man. You are the voice of reason - the ordinary man on the street. You know the buzz, the jive – you know what I’m saying?”
Al wasn’t totally sure but it seemed churlish to say so.
“I am going to take charge once more. Grief I should’ve done this years ago. All that tedious, pretentious claptrap spoken in my name – that’s what really gets me down. I don’t even get the chance to defend myself or deny it.”
“Now that’s going to change right?”
“Yo! No more being boring and holy. It’s perfectly easy to be caring, compassionate, charitable and selfless without being a stuck-up prig.”
Al sniggered as God gave him a high-five.
“But what about the free-will thing?”
God considered the dilemma for a moment.
“Aah, sod it.”
* * *
Earth on a Sunday morning was a quiet affair: people either slept in, nursing hangovers; took their kids to dance classes or football practice, or slobbed about reading ridiculously huge and inane newspapers. A few still went to church.
Two strangers joined the neatly dressed hordes seemingly swallowed by one particular gaping church door. The two newcomers filed in as inconspicuously as possible, digging each other in the ribs and trying not to giggle too much. They both groaned when they recognized the opening chords to the first chorus – ‘Our God is Really, Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Nice.”
“If only they knew the truth,” the larger one chuckled. “I’m not quite as nice as they think I am.”
“Sshh,” the other admonished, finger on lips.
A long prayer followed during which it became difficult to stay focused. Then a young, handsome man in jeans, shirt and cardigan stood up to address the congregation.
“God spoke to me last night telling me to share this prophecy. Folks, we are soldiers preparing for eternal combat. It is a cosmic struggle where we must be constantly ready to be besieged by Satan. We must be trained as God’s own mercenaries fighting his cause. Will you be a gladiator for the Lord? This is a crusade, a battle-ground, and we are the front-line in the trenches advancing through no-man’s land into the Arena of the Apocalypse. Hands up if you are willing to be God’s vigilante. Be a samurai trained to fight against sin and evil with your sacred sword of devotion and holiness. The Lord spoke to me last night and he called me to be his mine-sweeper, searching for the land mines of temptation and transgression. We are all heaven’s special envoys whose mission is to seek out the Devil’s weapons of mass destruction.”
God had sat patiently listening, but finally enough was enough. He stood up on His chair and with hands outstretched called out in an awe-inspiring voice:
“Oh my people – this is not how it was meant to be. I am the Lord your God and I say to you that it is not really a battle at all. If anything I created you to be peaceful, not violent and war-mongering. What is all this nonsense about ‘front-lines’ and ‘weapons of mass destruction’? I mean, honestly, get a life. I’ve never spoken to this man before and certainly never asked him to be my ‘mine-sweeper’. Folks – you need to take responsibility for your own lives. The real enemy is your self. This isn’t a war against Satan – the guy’s a complete idiot. For God’s sake … I mean, for your own sake … just loosen up a little.”
A furor ensued.
“Who is this heretic?”
“Get him out!”
“How dare you come here and criticize us. Who exactly do you think you are?”
The rapid and military response surprised the two visitors. Al was largely ignored, although he was roughly pushed along whilst God was grabbed by a myriad of hands and dragged towards the door in a most undignified way. He didn’t complain or resist.
The preacher continued as if commentating on the action.
“And so let the heretic be cast away. There is no room for sinners in our father’s house. Let us pray. Dear Lord, deliver us from the blasphemer. Let us be certain of our own truth and wisdom and never let us weaken or be led astray by these words of deceit. We will never bow to profanity, temptation or heresy. Safeguard us in our sanctity. We bathe in your grace and atonement. May our lives be an intercession and an oblation unto you, so we fall into your merciful hands with veneration. Oh, Redeemer, Counselor, Logos, Abba, Paraclete …”
God and Al were unceremoniously dumped outside by a dozen large men.
“You’re not welcome here. You understand?”
“Perfectly,” God replied, and if He’d been wearing a hat He would have tipped it politely.
Once alone Al glared at Him with narrowed eyes and a head full of questions.
“What?” asked God shrugging. “What did you want me to do? Strike down the place with lightening? Send in some plagues? Free-will, remember? The only way this world can work properly is with free-will.”
Al knew better than to argue.
“And besides,” God added. “Now I’m free from the shackles of religion and its institutions I can really enjoy myself.
Finally Al understood. Understood perfectly.
Life and death were going to be so much more fun now …